ABU DHABI // When nine-year-old Tamara Khoury sees a fellow pupil sitting alone on a bench during break time, she and her friends spring into action.
Tamara, along with her fifth-grade colleagues Cynthia Stephan and Afra Al Ali, are members of Al Mushrif’s Private School’s anti-bullying council. Their job is to promote inclusion and extend a helping hand to any student who may feel left out, lonely or bullied.
“We have this bench and whenever anybody like, they’re sad or something, they sit on this bench and one of the anti-bullying people comes and they let them be friends and fix the problem,” said Afra, a 10-year-old Emirati.
“Yeah, it really helped a lot,” said Tamara, a Jordanian in Year 5. “It’s called Buddy Bench. There was a big sign. It really helped.”
The Buddy Bench is one of a number of strategies developed by the school community over the years to tackle bullying from a grassroots level.
The school also makes an effort to keep the children busy and well supervised during break times, when bad behaviour is more likely to surface.
“To me, bullying doesn’t happen at Al Mushrif because if the children have a falling out and either hurt someone by pushing them if they’re angry or using a bad word or hurtful word, we’re really quick to respond so it doesn’t escalate into a bullying scenario,” said Emma Shanahan, the school’s principal.
“One of our key priorities this year is to have very active and positive playtimes for everyone. So we’ve invested a lot of money and time in organising resources – there’s more staff on duty to engage children in lots of different physical activities.
“There are more adults there who can coordinate play and we’ve got our anti-bullying council and we’ve got play leaders as well in Year 6.
“So, they really are very happy, positive times.” The school also hosts an anti-bullying week once a year that encourages students to design posters and reenact scenarios in class that promote making the right choices when it comes to bad behaviour.
“We really care about one another here at Al Mushrif and that’s very evident in what we say and what we do,” Mrs Shanahan said. “But we explicitly teach it as well.”
The school’s behavioural policy is centred around teaching the four Cs – courtesy, cooperation, common sense and consideration.
“It’s quite easy for everyone to remember, and actually everyone is demonstrating that,” Mrs Shanahan said.
“Every single person in school – the staff, the pupils – they demonstrate it, we’re reinforcing it, so it’s implicit in everything we do.”